One week after winning his first NBA championship and earning recognition as the NBA Finals’ Most Valuable Player, Kevin Durant has taken the first step in kicking off the Golden State Warriors’ bid for a repeat run next season.
According to Chris B. Haynes of ESPN.com, the four-time NBA scoring champion will decline the $27.7 million player option he holds for the 2017-18 season and enter unrestricted free agency this summer … and will then re-up with the team on a new deal that enhances Golden State’s likelihood of keeping its title-winning core together.
Durant said before the NBA Finals that he intended to remain with Golden State after the end of the season, but this has been widely expected ever since long before that. Really, it’s been the most likely outcome ever since he decided to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to join the Warriors, and since he chose to sign a two-year maximum-salaried deal last summer with an opt-out after the first season — commonly referred to as a “one-plus-one” contract — rather than inking a full-freight long-term max pact as soon as he arrived in the Bay.
The step-by-step logic was laid out last week by Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group. First, Durant opts out. Then, he signs a new one-plus-one deal at a 20 percent year-over-year raise, kicking his 2017-18 salary up to about $31.8 million.
That’s about $3.5 million less than the top dollar Durant could earn next year as a 10-year veteran. But as Bobby Marks of The Vertical recently detailed, signing Durant to a one-year deal using non-Bird rights could allow the Warriors to retain Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, rather than having to renounce the rights to the key veteran reserves to be able to create enough cap space to accommodate a full-bore max for Durant.
The lower number for KD would allow Golden State to go over the cap to pay whatever’s necessary to bring back Iguodala, Livingston or both, should ownership and management want to do so. Haynes reports that “all signs […] point to Durant signing another one-plus-one pact, which carries a player-option at the end,” to make those re-signings possible, though Shams Charania of The Vertical reported Monday that Iguodala intends to “seriously consider” other teams’ offers come the opening of free agency in July. Livingston’s situation, as Kawakami notes, will likely depend on whether any other suitor is willing to pony up a large multi-year offer for the 31-year-old, but Durant’s several-million-dollar sacrifice at least opens the door for the Warriors to possibly retain his services.
The big-ticket item, though, is what Durant’s decision means for the status of two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry. By choosing the non-Bird rights deal at $31.8 million for next year, Durant eliminates any concerns about having enough cap space to sign both KD and Steph for next season, allowing the Warriors to make good on Joe Lacob’s word to do whatever’s necessary to keep Curry happy for the long haul — namely, giving him the long-anticipated five-year Designated Veteran Player Extension, a contract worth $205 million over the next five years.
On top of giving the Warriors the flexibility to potentially bring back Iguodala and Livingston while maxing out Curry, signing the one-plus-one deal also sets Durant for an even richer payday next summer, when he’d be able to sign a four-year, $160 million max contract with Golden State after he’d established early Bird rights. Or, if he’s got his eyes on the biggest possible prize, Durant can go for another one-plus-one, then sign a full five-year max worth an estimated $217 million in the summer of 2019.
The options are all there in front of Durant — the chance to win big now and later, both on and off the court. Now that he’s decided to take the first step in that process, it’s up to general manager Bob Myers and the rest of the Warriors’ front office to set about executing the plan and doing whatever they can to secure the core of next year’s expected title favorite.
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